Isaiah was one of Israel’s greatest prophets. As a later biblical writer described him: “By his dauntless spirit he saw the future, and comforted the mourners in Zion. He revealed what was to occur to the end of time, and the hidden things before they happened.” (Sirach 48:22-25)
Isaiah’s ministry (740-701 BC) spanned the reigns of five kings and he prophesied at a time of great national crisis. At the time, Israel was divided into two kingdoms and under threat from the powerful Assyrian Empire. Isaiah warned that destruction would follow if the people did not repent. He also foretold disaster for the nations who surrounded and opposed Israel.
His mission began when he had a vision of God and the angels in heaven. In this vision, God asked who would preach to the people. In response, Isaiah said: “Here I am. Send me!” (6:1-13). This vision later became the basis for the Sanctus acclamation.
The book he wrote is a collection of visions, poems and spiritual observations about the politics of the day (2 Chronicles 26:22; 32:32; Isaiah 1:1; 13:1; 21:1-13). After the death of the prophet, other authors may also have been involved in its production (particularly chapter 40 onwards). Major themes from the book as a whole include the holiness of God, the eventual return from exile and the dawn of a new era for Israel.
Some personal details of Isaiah’s life shine through the text. He was married with two sons (7:3; 8:1-4). While he mixed in royal circles, he was also very down to earth, showing a concern for the poor and needy (1:23; 3:13-15; 10:1-2; 21:13-15). Isaiah must have also liked music, since he often refers to songs and singing (5:1; 12:5; 26:1; 30:29).
The book of Isaiah also has a lot to say about the coming Messiah. Early on, Isaiah refers to the birth of this special boy, who would be descended from Jesse (Isaiah 7:14; 9:5-6; 11:1-2). Later in the book, there are four ‘Servant Songs’ that describe the life of this expected hero (42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-7; 52:13-53:12). The most famous of these is probably the Song of the Suffering Servant.
After the Psalms, Isaiah is one of the most quoted books in the New Testament (61 times, to be precise). Christ himself began his public ministry at his local synagogue by reading from this book (Luke 4:16-22). As a result, Isaiah has often been referred to as the ‘Fifth Gospel’.
In this stained glass scene, Isaiah foresees the arrival of foreign pilgrims, who have come to help rebuild Jerusalem. This image is taken from Isaiah chapter 60, which describes how people from different nations would be drawn to the shining light of the restored city. The Latin caption on the window, “they all gather together, they come to you” is taken from verse 4 of the chapter.
The window, which dates to 1927, is the work of the Arts & Crafts artisan, Sister Margaret Rope. Found within Holy Family and St Michael’s, Kesgrave, it pictures Isaiah looking into the future and greeting the new arrivals. As described in the text, at the top of the window, a procession of pilgrims make their way to Jerusalem with gifts, while the ship that brought them sails behind.
See the full image:
Detail of the top of the window:
Where to find this work of art
Holy Family and St Michael, Kesgrave
Read the relevant passage
On a similar theme
- From the Old Testament: Isaiah had a vision of angels praising God, using words that were later included in the Sanctus acclamation.
- From the New Testament: In his gospel, St Matthew often links the life of Christ with prophecies from the book of Isaiah.